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The Iowa Senate last week advanced legislation that would allow sales of unpasteurized milk. It’s an extremely narrow bill that would bring Iowa closer in line with the rest of the nation. To hear critics tell it, though, you’d think lawmakers were on a mission to kill babies.
The bill, Senate File 2309, would legalize a niche industry of raw milk sellers. It passed the state Senate on a 32-15 line last week and now awaits consideration by the state House.
Humans have been drinking unprocessed milk from other mammals for thousands of years and most states allow limited sales, including all of Iowa’s neighbors. Yet some Senate Democrats were outraged at the idea that it might become legal in Iowa. They centered their opposition around a failed amendment to require a more detailed warning label, but it was clear they wanted to keep raw milk banned altogether.
“No amount of regulation can make raw milk safe,” state Sen. Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, said.
Pasteurized dairy products are safer than unpasteurized ones but there is no risk under this bill that grocery shoppers will unknowingly buy raw milk. It allows only direct farm-to-consumer sales and specifically outlaws sales and advertisements at stores and farmers markets. Only special operations with 10 or fewer dairy animals would be allowed to participate, barring big commercial dairies from the industry.
The milk would be required to have a label stating it is not subject to state inspection or health requirements. Democrats wanted to muddle the labeling requirement with a much lengthier statement about the risks of listeria to pregnant women and newborn babies.
Indeed, government health officials tell expectant mothers not to drink unpasteurized milk. They also say not to eat unheated hot dogs and lunch meat, certain soft cheeses and smoked seafood. And they say raw sprouts and melons might carry listeria.
Will Democrats propose putting such detailed warning stickers on Muscatine cantaloupes? Doubtful.
“When we started talking about what issues we would want to put on there, it ended up people wanted to bring in issues that were so numerous they would cover the jar. … If there were listeria warnings on lettuce, I probably would have put a listeria warning on this,” the bill’s floor manager, Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said.
What the milk prohibitionists refuse to grapple with is that prohibition doesn’t work. People are already buying and drinking raw milk. This bill would simply make it legal.
“It’s going on already. It’s kind of like a legalizing act that people aren’t going to be criminalized. I don’t think in this state people ought to be criminalized for something they choose to do that doesn’t harm someone else,” said state Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, the only Democrat to speak in favor of the bill during the Senate debate.
Democrats with their fingers in the wind have been trying to position themselves as the tough-on-crime party in Iowa. If they had any power in the Legislature, maybe they would allocate funding for a new Iowa Department of Agriculture SWAT team to raid homestead dairies.
When raw milk is outlawed, only the outlaws will drink raw milk.
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